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11 veterans die amid coronavirus outbreak at MA vets home – superintendent placed on leave

The Soldiers' Home in Holyoke. (Simtropolitan, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
March 31, 2020

A deadly coronavirus outbreak has struck the veteran care facility Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, Mass., and superintendent Bennett Walsh was placed on administrative leave on Monday.

Eleven veterans have died at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, WWLP News reported. Of those 11, five tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), test results are pending for another five, and the cause of death for one of the veterans is unknown.

In total, 11 other residents at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and five staff have also tested positive for coronavirus. An additional 25 residents are still awaiting test results.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker expressed his condolences for the series of deaths at the Soldiers’ Home and said that a thorough review is underway.

Val Liptak, RN and CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospitals, was assigned to replace Walsh and take over the administration of the Soldiers’ Home, according to a statement by Massachusetts Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Dan Tsai.

The department also sent an “onsite clinical command team” to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We have also implemented an onsite clinical command team comprised of medical, epidemiological, and operational experts responsible for the comprehensive and rapid response to the outbreak of COVID-19,” Tsai said. “All of these enhancements will build upon the existing protocols and work that align with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidance. Today’s actions underscore the state’s commitment to our veterans and frontline health care employees during this unprecedented public health crisis.”

On March 23, the Mass. Department of Veteran’s Services announced the first resident at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home that had tested positive with COVID-19.

Debra Foley, Director of Communications and Volunteer Programs of Soldiers Home in Holyoke, said in a statement Sunday that the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home “continues to fulfill its commitment to the safety and well-being of its resident Veterans while supporting the health and safety of our staff during this unprecedented public health crisis – including meeting all federal and state health standards.”

On Monday, the Mass. Department of Veteran’s Services announced the home is taking new measures to protect its residents. Those protective measures include: restricting all visitors, temperature checks and hand sanitation stations for employees arriving for work, daily temperature checks for residents, disinfecting high touch areas throughout the day, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for employees, posting signage on good hygiene practices and restricting the movements of residents in the Long Term Care Facility and the Independent Living Facility.

Veterans, staff, and families will also receive regular communications regarding guidance for infection control and prevention.